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Apple argument against abortion

  1. Oct 31, 2005 #1
    This is, as far as I can tell, a pretty solid argument against abortion.
    Feedback? Flaws in reason? Alternative perspectives? It seems to me that the only way someone can accept abortion would be to accept many other (currently illegal) acts as perfectly ethical, or to be relativist, which I think most people here don't support.

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 31, 2005 #2
    As I see it his logical reasoning comes down to:
    fetuses are person, killing persons is wrong, so abortion is wrong.
    While this is a logical deduction, it does of course not justify his premises. Those are simply a matter of personal preference. Peter Kreeft adheres to the view that killing anything that he calls human is wrong, without any practical consideration. People that are pro-choice do consider pratical issues.

    How is this solid reasoning?
    "all humans have the right to life because all humans are human"

    I do not understand this. Why can we not simply have the law state that abortion is legal, and also having it state that those "other (currently illegal) acts" are illegal?
  4. Oct 31, 2005 #3
    Well, we do know what an apple is. But I didn't see him arguing that an apple seed is also an apple or that if you eat an apple seed it's the same as eating an apple. I also didn't see him arguing that if an apple is good, covering the whole planet with apple trees is that much better.
  5. Oct 31, 2005 #4
    Simple. One simply denies the “scientific premise” that the fetus is a human, no more human than human cancer cells anyway.
  6. Oct 31, 2005 #5
    Are you an adherent of epistemological relativism? Otherwise your objection seems unsound (at least without further clarification). Truth is generally not a matter of taste—at least not in these cases.

    Well, the author here assumes ethical (and epistemological) objectivism. Either the fetus is a human or it is not. If the fetus is a human, and if all humans have the right to life, then it logically follows that fetuses also have the right to life; and human laws cannot change that (regardless of what they consider to be practical).
  7. Oct 31, 2005 #6

    James R

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    The argument is perfectly valid, but either premiss may be attacked. An opponent could argue either:

    1. A fetus is not human, or not "fully human".


    2. Not all humans have a right to life, or the same right to life.

    Personally, I think (1) is silly. A fetus is genetically human, and nobody can really argue that, provided you define "human" as "having a complete set of human genes".

    (2) is a perfectly valid argument, though. Most pro-lifers are not vegetarian. Why not? Why are they happy to eat a cow, but regard a human child as sacrosanct? It seems to me that many regard human life as inherently special, and accord special rights to humans just because humans are members of the species Homo sapiens. Cows do not have a special right to life, because they are of a different species. There appears to me to be no good ethical reason to make this distinction, but maybe you can think of one...
  8. Oct 31, 2005 #7


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    Ah, but ther's the rub. Why should possession of a certain set of genes be the test? Any stray skin cell, such as we shed all the time, has those genes. Does a single fertilized cell, a zygote, constitute a human being? If so then why not a swab from the inside of your cheek, which the doctors take for analysis of your genome?
  9. Oct 31, 2005 #8
    (2) is also dangerous, depending on how it is applied. Do Jews have the same right to life? Some people didn't think so. Who (if anyone) has the authority to decide such a matter here?

    The idea that human life is “special” in the sense of having a right to exist is generally well accepted even among pro-choicers. One might question this belief, but to treat the killing of a human for food the same way as one would treat the killing of a cow for food does not seem reasonable. For whatever reason, there does seem to be some intrinsic value to human life (to me at least).
  10. Oct 31, 2005 #9
    Good point. So why is a fetus any different? The “ouch” point for many people is that (when given nourishment) the genetically complete human life form naturally develops to become an adult member of its species. Like newborn human children, preborn human children grow up. Killing such life forms thus makes some people uncomfortable.
  11. Oct 31, 2005 #10

    James R

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    It's not a matter of authority, so much as having a good argument, in an ideal world least. What distinguishes a Jewish adult from a non-Jewish adult? Is the distinction important? Now compare a general adult with a child. And what about intellectually disabled people? What about black vs. white?

    You're right. A lot of pro-choicers have a long way to go in terms of an ethically consistent framework, but most don't have as far to go as pro-lifers, in my opinion.

    Why? I suppose you are assuming the cow has less ability to feel pain or to reason, or has less "potential" to achieve great things. Are you? Is this really just disguised speciesism?

    What of intellectually disabled people? They don't have the same "potential" to be contributing members of society. Are they less valuable than fully cabable humans, or not? And is "potential" a good basis for judgement, anyway?
  12. Oct 31, 2005 #11


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    The problem here is finding a cut-off point. Clearly a fetus does become a being that everyone agrees has rights at some point. Currently, we place that point at birth, but why? It acquires the ability to live independently of its mother before that, but it does not acquire its own bloodstream until after (when the umbilical cord is cut). It acquires sentience long before birth. The only major difference between a fetus directly before birth and a child directly after is that one breathes amniotic fluid and one breathes air. Maybe it's just me, but that doesn't seem like a good enough cut-off point.

    Anyway, smurf, the hole in his argument is right here:

    In answer to his initial question, persons are a separate class of entities from humans that most humans belong to. That is, there can be non-human persons, and there can be humans that aren't persons. Taking "person" to mean any entity worthy of all of the natural rights that we feel we are entitled to at birth, then there clearly are humans that are not persons. For instance, we almost universally agree that it is morally just to kill a man who is attempting to kill you. So a murderer, directly before his act of murder, can be considered to have forfeited certain of his rights and is no longer a person. We also have the case of humans that are brain-dead, probably the most obvious case of human non-persons with no rights other than to not be desecrated.

    What we have to do is look at the reasoning behind why these humans are considered to have forfeited certain rights - specifically, their right to life, and then determine whether or not fetuses meet the criteria. In the case of murderers, they have forfeited their right to life by being a threat to another, otherwise innocent life. So, in the case where a fetus is a threat to its mother's life, most people will probably agree that it has no right to its own life. However, only a small number of fetuses fit this criterion. So let us move on to the case of the brain-dead.

    In their case, there are two reasons why they are considered to be non-persons. The first is that they are not sentient, reasoning beings. If this was the only criterion, though, then any person that was unconscious would be a non-person, so there is a second reason. The second reason is that they have no chance of recovery; that is, they will never again be sentient, reasoning beings.

    If we look at these cases, we can see that most fetuses do not fit these criteria. That is why, independent of all religious and political dogma, as well as legal concerns, looking at nothing but the morality of the act itself, I feel compelled to be pro-life, with the only exception being when a mother's life is threatened by the continued life of the fetus.

    The only possible way I can really see to view abortion as morally acceptable is to take an act-utilitarian perspective. However, that requires us to rely on contingent future events to make the act morally acceptable. For instance, aborting the fetus may prevent its becoming a neglected, unwanted child that grows up to be a murderer, or some other morally equivalent situation that we could justifiably want to avoid. The problem is that we cannot know this is going to be the case, and I do not feel we are justified in taking a life because it might result in a better future.
  13. Oct 31, 2005 #12
    Consider the case of the muderer again in conjunction with conditions in your these other two examples.
    At what point exactly does the murderer become a "nonperson"?
    Is it contingent on future events?
    Can the murderer "recover" from it's state of being a "nonperson"?

    In the early stages of pregnancy could you consider the fetus insofar a "nonperson" with the ability to "recover" from this?

    Just a couple of little kinks I see. I too often have a hard time with whether or not I agree that abortion is an ethical practice and just how to work out the logic.
    Have you already considered and smoothed out these kinks yourself?
  14. Nov 1, 2005 #13
    I think both premises are not objective truths, but personal opinions that can be rejected or refined in many ways.
  15. Nov 1, 2005 #14
    How about the utilitarian perspective that the thing that is being killed will not notice being killed, and the persons that should make something of it are apparently not willing to do so? Nobody is hurt and some are helped.
  16. Nov 1, 2005 #15


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    Isn't that a pretty good argument for killing any homeless person in his sleep (particularly if he is a nuisance), just so long as no one who might care about him finds out?
  17. Nov 1, 2005 #16


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    Yes, it is, and this is where morality becomes unfortunately very fuzzy. There is no way around the difficulty of this. In essence, we must rely on our own consciences to a large extent, some form of moral 'sense' that most people agree on. In the case of a potential murderer, we seem to generally agree that it is justified to kill him so long as it is reasonable to believe that he is a direct threat to your life that cannot be removed in any way other than killing him. For instance, if he is holding a gun to your head, or if he was attacking you with a knife and dropped it. Even in certain cases of domestic abuse, however, where it was determined that the woman had reasonable cause to believe that the husband would kill her if she outed him, she might be found innocent of murder. The line gets very fuzzy, but I would say that to deny personhood to a fetus on this basis, it must at least be the prognosis of a licensed pre-natal physician that the fetus constitutes a significant threat to the mother's life. What I mean by 'significant' I cannot say exactly (and part of the reason we leave certain legalese fuzzy in this way is to allow leeway for human judgement), but I insert because of the obvious fact that any fetus has the potential to kill a mother upon childbirth should something go wrong, but in the same way that the fact that your husband might someday make a bad decision on the road and kill you in a car accident does not justify killing him, this inherent danger in childbirth should not, by itself, justify the killing of the fetus.

    I don't really want to address full personhood here, but it is the case with law at least the a murderer regains his right to life at the point that he has finished committing his murder. In states with capital punishment, this right might again be forfeited upon his conviction, but you cannot simply kill him if he is no longer a direct, immediate threat to someone. Really, it is only this right to life that is being considered, and not full personhood, which a convicted murderer gives up even if he retains his right to live.

    This is the 'cutoff line' I earlier referred to, and it's tough - maybe impossible - to answer this question. I have stated that I cannot see any good reason, whether legal or moral, to grant personhood upon birth, but that doesn't mean I know exactly at what point it should be granted. At conception? At the moment of first sentience? At the moment of first being able to reason? At the moment of first attaining a human morphology? It's easy for people to refer to it as nothing but a 'ball of cells,' but it ceases to be nothing but a ball of cells, and to be a sentient, human-shaped creature pretty quickly.

    The way in which I personally solve this dilemma is to err on the side of caution. One isn't going to fire an uzi into a neighbor's house hoping that no one is home - or hoping that they are are irreparably comatose. By the same token, I don't think that we should be killing fetuses, hoping that they have not yet attained a state of moral personhood.
  18. Nov 1, 2005 #17


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    From what I can tell, your interpretation of his argument is correct, but jeez - the way he presents it, most of it's just gibberish. He calls them 13 steps, but they aren't steps at all! They are mostly just separate arguments.

    So I ask....
    Huh? It is? Can you explain it in your own words?

    And I'm a little incredulous that a philosophy professor - even a deeply religious one - can make suck a basic error as to not mention the seed when comparing apples to humans and fetuses.
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2005
  19. Nov 1, 2005 #18


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    Interesting point. In here we can insist on logical arguments, but in the real world I tend to agree with you: the abortion debate has a lot of talking points, but precious little actual logic.
  20. Nov 1, 2005 #19


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    This point got glossed over, but it is a big flaw in the logic. He's saying that because we know what an apple is, we must also know what a human is. But, he's overlooking that an apple is the fruit of the tree; it's the ovary containing the fertilized seeds, all of which have the potential, given the right conditions, to grow into new apple trees...technically, they contain the apple tree embryos. Yet, we do not call an apple seed an apple tree. We distinguish all of the different developmental stages, and even place different values on them. It would be rather insignificant if someone stole one apple from a tree, or ruined one apple, or destroyed the seeds of an apple (just minutes ago, I destroyed a bunch of apple seeds by sending them through the garbage disposal as I sat here and ate the apple; at no point do I expect anyone to accuse me of killing an apple tree for those actions). If someone were cultivating seedlings, it would be a greater offense to steal or destroy those seedlings, and an even greater offense to chop down the whole, mature, fruit-bearing tree.
  21. Nov 1, 2005 #20


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    A rebuttal: http://www.pcug.org.au/~dean/Kreeft/kreeft-apple.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  22. Nov 1, 2005 #21
    something that doesnt make sense is when the person says :

    "In Case 2, where the fetus is a person and you don't know that, abortion is manslaughter. It's like driving over a man-shaped overcoat in the street at night or shooting toxic chemicals into a building that you're not sure is fully evacuated. You're not sure there is a person there, but you're not sure there isn't either, and it just so happens that there is a person there, and you kill him. You cannot plead ignorance. True, you didn't know there was a person there, but you didn't know there wasn't either, so your act was literally the height of irresponsibility. This is the act Roe allowed.

    In Case 3, the fetus isn't a person, but you don't know that. So abortion is just as irresponsible as it is in the previous case. You ran over the overcoat or fumigated the building without knowing that there were no persons there. You were lucky; there weren't. But you didn't care; you didn't take care; you were just as irresponsible. You cannot legally be charged with manslaughter, since no man was slaughtered, but you can and should be charged with criminal negligence. "

    he assumes that YOU, personaly dont know that abortion is wrong, not that you cannot prove that abortion is wrong, or that it cannot be known that abortion is wrong...but then he judges using the ideas that abortion is wrong. which doesnt make a whole lot of sense to me? anyone else see that?
  23. Nov 1, 2005 #22
    Am I understanding you correctly? Are you saying that whether or not a fetus is a person is not an objective truth?
  24. Nov 1, 2005 #23
    In think you misunderstood him. Looking at the list again:

    • The fetus is a person, and we know that;
    • The fetus is a person, but we don't know that [i.e. if asked if a fetus is a person one honestly replies “I don’t know”];
    • The fetus isn't a person, but we don't know that [i.e. if asked if a fetus is a person one honestly replies “I don’t know”];
    • The fetus isn't a person, and we know that.

    When he refers to the list he uses “you” instead of “we,” probably just to instantiate the situation. That is, he does it from the point of view of you doing the abortion, as is suggested from when he says, “In Case 1, where the fetus is a person and you know that, abortion is murder. First-degree murder, in fact. You deliberately kill an innocent human being.” His logic here is valid for each scenario. Only in the last item in the list (the fetus is a person, and we know that) can one be morally justified in doing an abortion. If we honestly don’t know whether an abortion kills a person, the best thing (logically and morally) would be to err on the side of caution.

    Of course, most pro-choicers (I hope) honestly believe that the fetus is a nonperson.
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2005
  25. Nov 1, 2005 #24
    But then again, a lot of Nazis thought they had a good argument too.

    You bring up a good point, but at best this would argue for vegetarianism, not for the legalization of murder.

    They can still grow up to be adult members of their species.

    Sort of. It's really not potential per se but the nature of the organism itself. Think of it this way: why allow a human newborn to live? It has no more intelligence then my pet cat, nor can it contribute much to society etc. Yet the fact is we have a life form with human DNA (genetically complete) that grows up to be an adult member of its species. So the life form is a person, even if the life form is not fully developed yet. To the very least it's a consistent set of criteria, arguably less arbitrary than the birth criterion.
  26. Nov 1, 2005 #25


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    Are you aware that early first trimester abortions do not abort a fetus? So, you are only opposed to later term abortions after it becomes a fetus? Because I am assuming you know enough basic biology to understand that.
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